Tag Archives: Gil Hodges Field

Hall of Famer Hodges may have I-69 bridge named in his honor

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana native Gil Hodges has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and he may be getting another posthumous honor.
Hodges was born in Princeton in 1924 and grew in Petersburg in southern Indiana. He attended Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Bronze Star recipient as a part of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. He was involved in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
He was a slugging first baseman for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers before managing the “Miracle Mets” to the World Series title in 1969 and dying of a heart attack in 1972.
In his 35 looks on a Hall of Fame ballot, Hodges obtained the necessary 75 percent of the vote from the Golden Days Period committee for enshrinement in Cooperstown. The induction ceremony is slated for July 24.
Hodges was in the inaugural class of Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in 1979.
A water-crossing structure in Columbus, Ind., might be among his next recognition.
A resolution passed through both chambers of the Indiana House to ask the Indiana Department of Transportation to ponder renaming the passageway on I-69 over the East Fork of the White River the “Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.” The bridge section is in Columbus.
The resolution was co-sponsored by State Representatives Cindy Ledbetter (R-Newburgh) and Shane Lindauer (R-Jasper).
“Resolutions don’t need to be signed by the governor,” says Adam Aasen, press secretary for Indiana House Republicans. “The bridge isn’t automatically renamed yet, although INDOT often takes these resolutions into strong consideration.”
The famed son of Indiana already has several places bearing his name:
• A bridge spanning the East Fork of the White River in northern Pike County on S.R. 57 is named for Hodges.
• Princeton Community High School plays on Gil Hodges Field.
• The diamond at Saint Joseph’s College, which closed in 2017, is also named for Hodges.
• A large mural of Hodges stands at the corner of S.R. 57 and S.R. 61 in Petersburg.
• There already is a Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge and Gil Hodges Way in New York.
• Randy’s Americana Cafe’ in Petersburg has a huge Hodges memorabilia display. A baseball-style lunch is planned in Gil’s honor on April, which would have been his 98th birthday.
• Hodges wore 14. Both the Mets and Dodgers have retired that number.

Indiana native Gil Hodges has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and will be inducted posthumously in 2022.
Both chambers of the Indiana House have passed a resolution asking the Indiana Department of Transportation to name a span on the I-69 bridge the “Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.”
Gil Hodges Field in Princeton, Ind.
Gil Hodges Field at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. SJC closed in 2017.
The Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge in New York.
A New York street honoring Indiana native Gil Hodges.
A mural in Petersburg, Ind., for Gil Hodges.

Princeton’s Barrett coaches where grandfather, Gil Hodges used to play

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Barrett was born and raised in Evansville, Ind.

But before he knew about hometown baseball hero Don Mattingly, he heard stories about Gil Hodges.

That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.

Zach Barrett is now the head baseball coach at Princeton Community High School. The Tigers play on Gil Hodges Field. It’s the same diamond where its namesake and his grandfather once played the game.

“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”

One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.

“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”

Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.

“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”

Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.

Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.

Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.

Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.

“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.

The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.

The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.

Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.

Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.

With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.

Princeton (enrollment around 610) is a member of the reconfigured 13-member Pocket Athletic Conference (with Boonville, Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Mount Vernon of Posey, North Posey, Pike Central, Southridge, South Spencer, Tecumseh, Tell City and Washington).

Conference games are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This format promotes the development of pitching depth if teams want to be competitive.

The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Gibson Southern, Pike Central, Southridge, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington. Princeton has won six sectional crowns — the last in 1991.

Barrett’s 2021 assistants are Brad Stone, Alec Sandefur, Reed Farmer, Brandon Winschief and Lane Rumple.

The expectation is that there will be 22 to 24 players to fill out varsity and junior varsity teams with some swinging between the two.

Princeton Youth Baseball, which plays at Jack Bishop Park, helps feed the high school Tigers as does the middle school Cub program.

Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.

“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”

Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes. 

Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.

“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.

“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”

The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights. 

“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”

That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.

“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.

“They’re not selfish.”

Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.

Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.

“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.

“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”

Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.

Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.

Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.

“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players. 

“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.

“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”

Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.

Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.

“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”

Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

College baseball for Barrett included two years under coach Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College (2005 and 2006) and two under coach Steve Peterson at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (2007 and 2008).

“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.

“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”

Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.

“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”

Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.

Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.

In 2008 and 2009, Barrett was the manager of the Dubois County Bombers’ summer collegiate wood bat team.

He began his teaching career and was a football assistant at Evansville Harrison High School on the staffs of Cory Brunson and Lane Oxley prior to Princeton Community.

Barrett and fiancee Kim live on the north side of Evansville and are to be married in July. Kim’s daughter from a previous relationship is Charley (5). Ellie was born to Zach and Kim in May 2019.

Zach Barrett is the head baseball coach at Princeton (Ind.) Community High School.

Affinity for baseball, woodworking leads to Gandolph Bats

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball has been a part of Tom Gandolph’s life since Day 1.

The third of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and wife Ann’s four children (following Dave Jr. and Dan and before Jennifer), Tom played at what is now known as Center Grove Youth Baseball in Greenwood and later played for his father at Center Grove High School, graduating in 1995, and then at NCAA Division II Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., graduating in 1999.

He was on a 15-year-old team that went to the World Series in Kissimmee, Fla., and played varsity ball in the junior and senior years of high school and college. 

Gandolph was a shortstop and pitcher at Center Grove, but was used only as a moundsman in varsity games by SJC head coach Mike Moyzis.

There was also a 13-year run in what was once called the Indianapolis Amateur Baseball League before Gandolph put baseball on the back burner.

A woodworking hobby became Smokey’s Wood Shop — a one-man operation run out of Gandolph’s garage in Bargersville, Ind., which is near Greenwood in Johnson County.

He made some wooden American flags and they were well-received.

Suddenly, the 43-year-old full-time firefighter had a side gig — and a fun one at that.

With son Tanner (who is 6) starting to play in the CGYB, Tom was drawn back to baseball and decided to branch out and added Gandolph Bats as a division of Smokey’s in the latter part of 2020.

“I saw bat-making wood lathe videos,” says Gandolph, who promotes his businesses on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “I’ve been turning a lot of bats since October. Gandolph bats has been keeping me busy.

“I’ve gotten good feedback from friends and travel ball players. They say they’ve got really good pop and weight distribution.”

Counting display, game and fungo bats, Gandolph has produced about 75 so far and currently has orders for the next 15.

Just last week, Gandolph made plans to upgrade to an auto-lathe so he can increase his volume. 

Right now, he might be able to turn seven bats from the time he gets off work and the time he picks up 6-year-old Tanner from school.

Gandolph Bats are made of Maple — a hardwood that is just a little more expensive that Ash. He is also interested in making clubs from Birch.

Now back in the baseball world, Gandolph is learning about the many travel ball teams and training facilities around central Indiana. 

Good friend Jason Taulman, a SJC teammate, runs the Indy Sharks. When Saint Joseph’s shuttered after the 2017, Gil Hodges Field went to seed. Gandolph, Taulman and other friends of the Pumas, worked to rehabilitate the field and travel ball games have been played there.

Rick O’Dette, who played at SJC and was later head coach, is also a 1999 graduate of the school.

A.J. Zapp, who played with Gandolph at Center Grove and in pro ball, has been a coach for the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Besides Tanner, Tom and wife Rachael Gandolph also have a daughter — Mia (20 months).

A custom bat turned by Tom Gandolph of Gandolph Bats, a division of Smokey’s Wood Shop in Bargersville, Ind.
Baseball friends from Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. — Jason Taulman (left) and Tom Gandolph. In 2020, Gandolph started Gandolph Bats as a division of his Smokey’s Wood Shop business.
Rachael and Tom Gandolph take in a baseball game. Tom played baseball at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and many years in the Indianapolis Amateur Baseball League. In 2020, he started Gandolph Bats as a division of Smokey’s Wood Shop in Bargersville, Ind.
Tom Gandolph runs Smokey’s Wood Shop and Gandolph Bats out of shop in Bargersville, Ind.

Indy Sharks founder Taulman emphasizes healthy mechanics, throwing strikes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Taulman is a busy man — especially at this time of the year.

For the past eight years, he has run a baseball training facility that some call the “The Facility” or the “Shark Tank” in Noblesville, Ind.

From January to March as players are gearing up for their seasons, Taulman teaches up to 60 lessons (30-minute sessions) per week. From April to September, that number is 20 to 40 with October to December being 20 to 30.

A former college player and coach, Taulman started the Indy Sharks travel baseball program in the fall of 2014 to develop players and to educate them and their parents on the recruiting and scholarship process and more.

“We focus on training and the five tools of a baseball player,” says Taulman. “When the time is ready we’ll showcase you.

“Players don’t have measurable good enough to be recruited (in the early ages).”

In 2020, the Sharks will field seven teams — 12U, 14U, 15 (two teams), 16U and 17U (two teams). The majority of the players on one 17U team were on the original 12U squad.

Taulman says 12U to 14U teams tend to play 40 to 45 games per season while 15U to 17U get in 30 if they have a good summer and advance deep in their tournament.

The 17U Sharks will participate in top-notch recruiting events like the New Balance Program 15 in Cincinnati as well as the Prep Baseball Report Midwest Prospect League and Bullpen Tournaments Amateur Baseball Championships at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and the Perfect Game USA World Wood Bat Association National Championship in Marietta, Ga.

Taulman is a proponent of the Ron Wolforth’s Texas Baseball Ranch method and the coaching of Woolforth, Derek Johnson and Brent Strom.

In teaching pitchers, Taulman’s approach is straight-forward.

“We want to see mechanics that will keep the arm healthy,” says Taulman. “We want them to throw strikes and pitch. That’s lost in today’s technology and social media craze.

“Everybody wants to throw hard. If we’re not doing it safely and are able to locate, velocity does us no good.

“We teach them how to train and get stronger.”

Lafayette, Ind., native Bobby Bell, who was the hitting coach with Carolina in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2019, runs hitting clinics while Taulman runs arm strength/bat speed clinics at the “Shark Tank.”

Taulman began his prep days at Lafayette Jefferson High School. He tranfered to West Lafayette and graduated in 1991.

He played for two head coaches with the Red Devils — Pat Murtaugh and Fred Campbell. Murtaugh was an associate or “bird dog” professional scout and went on to be a full-time scout. He is now employed by the New York Yankees.

“With Coach Murtaugh, I became intrigued about the professional game and what it takes to be at a higher level,” says Taulman. “That was motivation for me.”

Taulman got to know former Purdue University head coach (1978-91)/Seattle Mariners scout Dave Alexander when he mowed his grass.

“He came across as kind of gruff,” says Taulman of Alexander, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “But he has a good heart.”

Former Purdue and McCutcheon and current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Doug Schreiber coached Taulman with the Lafayette Red Sox summer collegiate team.

Right-handed pitcher Taulman played four years for head coach Mike Moyzis and earned an Elementary Education degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. The NCAA Division II Pumas were Great Lakes Valley Conference champions in Taulman’s senior season of 1995.

“(Moyzis) was an outstanding coach,” says Taulman. “He was very big on mental toughness and how to compete.

Moyzis recruited Chicagoland and had many players with swagger.

“He taught you how to carry yourself with confidence,” says Taulman. “Moyzis was off the charts with that stuff.

“For me, it made a world of difference once I began to carry myself that way.”

Moyzis is now vice president of special events for Game Day USA and runs tournaments all over the country. He has brought in Taulman to serve as a coach for select events.

Joe Fletcher was the Saint Joseph’s pitching coach when Taulman was there.

“Fletch had just a huge impact on me,” says Taulman. “That’s when I learned how to pitch. It’s the first time we really learned how to work at the game.

“(Moyzis and Fletcher) were excellent teachers and trainers. They were ahead of their time.”

When Taulman was an SJC senior, Rick O’Dette was a freshman. O’Dette went on to serve 17 years as Pumas head coach before the school was closed at the end of the 2017 season.

Lawrence North High School junior catcher/outfielder Jack Taulman, one of Jason’s sons, attended a showcase at Saint Leo (Fla.) University, where O’Dette is now the head coach.

After graduating from Saint Joseph’s, Taulman played four seasons with the Lafayette Leopards of the independent Heartland League with Lafayette winning league titles in 1995 and 1996.

In the fall of 1996, the Indiana Baseball Academy opened in Brownsburg and Taulman was a part of that training facility that was co-owned by big league pitcher Jeff Fassero.

Taulman served a short stint with the independent Northern League’s Sioux Falls Canaries in 1999. Former Purdue head coach Steve Green (1992-98) was Sioux Falls’ bench coach.

To start out his coaching career, Taulman served with the independent Frontier League’s Ohio Valley Redcoats and the Lafayette Leopards.

He later was pitching coach for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University when Pat Neshek hurled for the Bulldogs.

In the summer of 2017 and again last year and again last summer, Taulman and others ran travel tournaments with the Indy Sharks at Gil Hodges Field.

Saying he missed raking a field, Farley helped last spring in getting the field ready.

After the Indiana Baseball Association, Taulman helped start the Tippecanoe Baseball Academy in Lafayette with partners Bell, Jake Burton and Matt Kennedy.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Burton was then the McCutcheon High School head coach and is now at Twin Lakes. Kennedy has been an assistant to O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s and Saint Leo and is now on the Butler coaching staff.

After Taulman was pitching coach at Butler, he assumed the same duties at Ball State University, where he earned his master’s degree in Coaching Specialization.

He was on head coach Greg Beals’ staff for one season. Jason and Kelly Taulman have four sons — Clark (21), Nick (19), Jack (17) and Brock (14).

When Jason was at Ball State, 2-year-old Nick was diagnosed with Autism.

“We decided that someone needs to be home full-time to manage this,” says Taulman, who by this time had moved his family to Hamilton County. Nick Taulman is a 2019 Fishers High School graduate who participated in the IHSAA Unified Track and Field State Finals.

JASONTAULMAN

Jason Taulman, a West Lafayette (Ind.) High School graduate, teaches private baseball lessons and runs the Indy Sharks travel organization out of Noblesville, Ind. He is a former pitcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and was the pitching coach at Butler University and Ball State University. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

O’Dette takes a little Saint Joe with him to Saint Leo

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rick O’Dette is enjoying his new baseball home.

But he’ll always have a warm place in his heart for the old one.

#ForeverPumas.

After Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., closed at the end of the 2017-18 school year and 1999 SJC graduate O’Dette’s tenure as Pumas head coach wrapped after 17 seasons, he and his staff found landing spots for about 30 players from the top-20 NCAA Division II program then found a job of his own in Florida — taking a few familiar faces with him.

While there are former SJC players now at all levels of college baseball, there are four contributing this spring with NCAA Division I programs not far from Gil Hodges Field.

Junior right-handed pitcher Quinn Snarksis wound up as starter at the University of Illinois.

Sophomores Noah Powell and Lukas Jaksich are both at Ball State University — Powell (who went to Mount Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind.) as starting shortstop and lead-off hitter and left-hander Jaksich (who went to Andrean High School in Merrillville) as a starting pitcher.

Sophomore left-handed reliever Jarrett Hammel is now wearing the colors of Valparaiso University. Hammel went to South Newton High School.

Junior Joe Kenney went to the University of Indianapolis — one of Saint Joe’s old foes from the Great Lakes Valley Conference — to be a starting second baseman.

“We miss those guys,” says O’Dette of his former players. “They were put into a spot. I stay in contact with a lot of them.”

O’Dette is now head baseball coach at Saint Leo University in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area. There are about 2,600 students on campus with many more connected in various ways around the country.

Playing in the powerhouse NCAA Division II Sunshine State Conference (along with Tampa, Nova Southeastern, Florida Southern, Palm Beach Atlantic, Eckerd, Lynn, Barry, Embry-Riddle and Rollins), the Lions were off to a 36-10 start and still fighting for a regional tournament berth in 2018.

“It’s considered the best Division II conference in the country,” says O’Dette, whose team recently took two-of-three in an SSC series against Florida Southern. (Saint Leo is) literally one of the best places in the country. The school looks like a resort.”

Just since O’Dette got there, there has been $35,000 in upgrade to the baseball facilities.

School has been out for two weeks and the team has been practicing multiple times a day in 85-degree weather.

Matt Kennedy, who served with O’Dette at Saint Joe in two different stints, is his top assistant at Saint Leo.

Former SJC player Morgan DePew is a volunteer assistant coach for the Lions.

Sophomore Amir Wright, a Griffith High School product and former Puma, is Saint Leo’s center fielder and lead-off hitter.

Once part of the SJC mound staff, sophomore right-hander Joey Antonopoulos is one of SLU’s top relievers.

Redshirt freshman infielder Danny Torres, a South Bend St. Joseph graduate, was already at Saint Leo when O’Dette and he rest of the newcomers arrived.

O’Dette hit the ground running when he arrived on campus in late June of 2017, signing 13 new players in the first six weeks or so. Six of Saint Leo’s signings for 2019 are from the Midwest, including Center Grove senior Mikey Wyman.

Among the many standouts for the 2018 Lions is junior Peyton Isaacson. The former Coastal Carolina University player is both a power-hitting catcher and closer for Saint Leo. Swinging from the left side, he has 11 home runs and has also used his right arm to notch 14 saves.

Senior second baseman Zach Scott is another head-turner for the Lions.

Isaacson and Scott are expected to go in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft June 4-6.

Many folks with ties to Saint Joe have gotten a chance to watch Saint Leo.

“Pumas became Lions,” says O’Dette. “Alumni have been great. During the month of March, I bet I saw 25 alumni on spring break.”

O’Dette has been featured on the Top Coach Podcast twice — both at Saint Joe and Saint Leo.

RICKODETTESAINTLEO

After 17 seasons as his alma mater — Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., Rick O’Dette is now head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida. (Saint Leo University Photo)

 

School is closing, but Saint Joseph’s College looking to go out in style

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a popular hashtag around Rensselaer, Ind.: #ForeverPumas.

It looks like this is the last spring Saint Joseph’s College will field a baseball team or any other team.

Because of monetary woes, SJC has decided to close at the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

The school, which was founded in 1889, went on financial probation by the Higher Learning Commission and then made the decision to cease operations — at least for the time being. Commencement is scheduled for May 6.

Rick O’Dette, a former Saint Joseph’s player and 17th-year head coach, has been in charge of the transition after the shocking news broke just before the season opener for this school with a history of diamond success.

“We’re going about it like it’s our last season,” O’Dette said Wednesday, March 29. “We’ve always had financial questions and concerns. But this all kind of hit us quickly.”

Dr. Robert Pastoor, SJC president, issued the following statement Feb. 2:

“At what is truly one of the most difficult points in the history of Saint Joseph’s College, when it seems that hope is lost and parties are divided, it is important to remember that our Community has made it through other difficult chapters, and that we all agree more than we disagree. We all want to find a way for SJC to overcome the present challenges and be resurrected with its mission intact. We need to pull together, rather than apart, during this transition period — students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and everyone who loves SJC.

“We wish the financial situation was different than it is, but it has been building over decades, and it will take time to work our way out of it. We regret that many people did not realize the financial situation we were in, and we are committed to sharing all relevant information with our Community, because through understanding we can develop solutions.

“With your prayers and support, you and we will help make Saint Joseph’s College strong again.”

O’Dette’s NCAA Division II No. 19-ranked Pumas (currently 16-6 overall and 2-2 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference) have gone about their on-field business while many of the players have looked to find a new collegiate home for next year.

“The process has been really difficult,” O’Dette said. “Our players have done a really good job from the standpoint of getting better and being of value to other programs.

“It’s a great place. It’s just a sad deal. We’re going to miss it for sure. These guys have bought in to making it the best opportunity they can.”

O’Dette’s coaching staff includes Matt Kennedy, Nic Sampognaro, Eric Bunnell and Dennis Khym. These men will also have to find new places, but the players have been top priority.

“Our first goal is to get these guys comfortable with what’s happening,” O’Dette said. “They don’t deserve this. It’s not their fault.

“We’ve done a good job of being out front with everything. We’ve made a ton of contacts so everybody who wants to play somewhere has an opportunity to play.”

O’Dette and his assistants have fielded hundreds of phone calls inquiring about player availability.

“The majority of our guys are already going somewhere,” O’Dette said. There were a few scouts at the doubleheader against Wayne State Wednesday, March 29 at SJC’s Gil Hodges Field/Rueth-Fitzgibbon Complex.

“A number of guys are going to (NCAA) Division I baseball,” O’Dette said. “We’ve got some guys who are going D-II, D-III, NAIA and a few will just end up going to school and finishing their degree.

“It’s tough to be done with their game and hand them over to another coach like we’re a junior college. It’s been a really difficult thing.”

O’Dette, who hails from Tinley Park, Ill., had concentrated much of his search for players in the Chicago area until those players became a little too costly to land. The recruiting trails has generally been a five-hour radius. But SJC has gone further.

The Pumas’ 53-man roster includes 11 seniors and 27 players from Indiana, 19 from Illinois, two from Puerto Rico and one each from Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin.

SJC seniors are Zachary Aring (Beecher, Ill.), Riley Benner (Tri-County High School), Kyle Estand (Evergreen, Ill.), Chase Fieldhouse (Lake Central High School), Joshua Handzik (Frankfort, Ill.), Ryan Keck (Edwardsville, Ill.), Martin Napleton (LaGrange, Ill.), Brenden Rivera (Temple Terrace, Fla.), David Schurr (Plainfield, Ill.), Kevin Sloat (Manteno, Ill.) and Tasker Strobel (Avon High School).

Benner, currently SJC’s leading hitter at .427, talked about the reason he chose to become a Puma.

“My dad (Mick) came here and always had good things to say about Saint Joe,” Benner said. “I took a visit and I loved everything about it. I just couldn’t wait to get on campus my freshman year.

“It’s been nothing short of awesome.”

How did the first baseman and business administration major take the news about the school closing, taking the baseball program with it?

“We speculated for awhile what was going to happen,” Benner said of the school of about 1,000 students (more than half being athletes). “But hearing they were not going to have students in the fall was in shock. It was utter sadness. I don’t no any better words to describe it.

“I can’t imagine some of the anxiety some of (my younger teammates) must have.”

Handzik, a third baseman and business administration/economics major hitting .329, expressed his feelings for his teammates.

“My first thought went to the younger guys — the freshmen, sophomores, juniors — all these guys that I’ve seen grow and how upset I was that I was not going to be able to see them finish here and have the full experience I had here,” Handzik said.

While the team does not have captains per se, there is a team-picked leadership group and Handzik is part of that.

“At the end of the fall, we went through an evaluation to rate people on the team who you think are leaders,” Handzik. “We make sure guys are on track off the field as well as on the field.”

Winning baseball is important. But that’s not the only objective at SJC.

“We want guys walking out of here as great people,” O’Dette said. “They care about each other. They care about this institution. They are about others in our community.”

To come to St. Joseph’s, they have to care about hitting the books as much as hitting a curve ball. The Pumas have a team grade-point average of 3.4 on a 4.0 scale with nine 4.0’s and 23 players with an average of 3.8 or higher.

“Our guys have done a really good job in the classroom,” O’Dette said. “We have to have a student-athlete here. This is not an easy academic institution.”

Strobel, a left-handed pitcher and business administration major who transferred from Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., to the University of the Illinois-Chicago to Saint Joe prior to the 2016 season, wants to Pumas to go out on top.

“Let’s go win it all. Why not make it a storybook ending?,” Strobel said. “Let’s make (an ESPN) ’30 for 30’ out of it. Why not us?

“We definitely have the talent to (win a championship). We have our iffy games. But if we put all through aspects together — running, pitching, hitting — we definitely have one of the best teams in the nation.”

O’Dette has that same mindset.

“Our guys deserve to go out on top,” O’Dette said. “Our alumni deserve to see that. We want success for everybody in this program.”

Napleton, a catcher and business administration major hitting .371, is more than pleased with his decision to attend SJC.

“I love it here,” Napleton said. “I’ve grown as a man — in my personal life and on the field as a baseball player.”

Napleton wishes nothing but the best to his younger teammates who will be wearing different uniforms in the coming seasons.

“It’s bittersweet that they don’t get to go here four years like I did,” Napleton said. “As a leader, I’ve got to be proud of my guys wherever they decide to go to school.”

Advice from O’Dette has stuck with Napleton. One stands out.

“Just do the little things right,” Napleton. “That’s so important in life. A lot of times if you’re doing the little things right, the breaks go your way. If you take care of business and the small details, life is a lot easier.”

Khym, an SJC volunteer coach since 1990, gave the main reasons he keeps making the trek from Monee, Ill.

“It’s the people,” Khym said. “Since I’ve been here, it’s the people more than baseball. There’s some special against Saint Joseph’s people. I didn’t go to school here, but they have adopted me so I’m almost like an alumni. They treat me with the utmost respect.

“There’s a lot of love at this school.”

17_team

With Saint Joseph’s College announcing its closing, the 2017 baseball season will be the last for the Pumas. SJC is currently 16-6 and ranked No. 19 in the NCAA Division II poll.